Amazon warehouse workers plan national coronavirus protest

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Amazon workers at Amazon’s Staten Island warehouse strike in demand that the facility be shut down and cleaned after one staffer tested positive for the coronavirus on March 30, 2020 in New York.

Angela Weiss | AFP | Getty Images

Amazon warehouse workers are planning a “mass call out” this week to call attention to what they call a lack of protections for employees who continue to come to work amid the coronavirus outbreak. 

More than 300 Amazon workers across at least 50 facilities have signed up to take part in the protest, according to United for Respect, a worker rights group. To participate in the protest, workers will call out of work “en masse across the country” starting tomorrow and throughout the week. The protest is taking place across several days because workers are scheduled to report to their shifts on different days and at various times. 

The workers are calling for Amazon to “immediately close down” any facilities that report positive cases and to provide testing and two weeks of pay for workers during that time. They’re also calling for Amazon to provide paid sick leave, guarantee healthcare for all Amazon associates, eliminate rate-based quotas “that make hand-washing and sanitizing impossible” and commit not to retaliate against associates who speak out, among other demands.

The protest marks the first nationwide effort by warehouse workers to demand coronavirus safety protections, after workers staged walkouts at Amazon facilities in Staten Island, New York; Detroit and Illinois in recent weeks. Their calls have also sparked action from some of Amazon’s corporate employees, who are hosting a “virtual sick out” on April 24 to demand that the company reinstate fired workers and to protest its treatment of warehouse workers.

The company’s labor practices drew further criticism after Amazon fired a Staten Island warehouse worker who organized a strike to demand greater protections for employees amid the coronavirus outbreak. Chris Smalls, a management assistant at the facility, said he was fired for organizing the strike, but Amazon said it fired Smalls because he violated social distancing rules while he was supposed to be under quarantine after being exposed to a coworker who tested positive for the coronavirus.

Amazon declined to comment on the walkout plans for this week. But in the past, the company has downplayed the walkouts, saying only a small percentage of workers at the facilities participated in the protests and there was no disruption to operations.

A spokesperson from Amazon previously highlighted the number of steps the company has taken to protect warehouse workers during the pandemic. Amazon increased the frequency and intensity of cleaning at all of its sites and requires that employees sanitize and clean their work stations at the start and end of shifts. It has also started taking employees’ temperatures when they report to work and has supplied them with face masks.

Despite this, warehouse workers say Amazon isn’t doing enough to protect them from catching the virus while they’re on the job. Monica Moody, a packer at an Amazon facility in Charlotte, North Carolina, said it’s one of the reasons why she plans to participate in the “mass call out” tomorrow.

“I just want better treatment,” said Moody, who is also a member of United for Respect. “I would feel a whole lot safer if they would just close down facilities for two weeks and clean them. I would go back to work, no problem.”

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